Ok stick with me on this one.
As anyone who has read here for a while would know I have a somewhat tenuous relationship with the term ’emerging church’. It seems to be a catch all term for those who aren’t doing church in rows with 3 fast 3 slow an offering and sermon. I think it is way too vague to really define anything effectively and yet it seems that what we are doing belongs somewhere in that basket. I have often said that we prefer to see ourselves simply as missionaries, but somehow I continue to find myself aligned with emerging church ‘conversations’ (there’s that word again)
Today I was talking with my friend Stuart Wesley who is currently at a meeting of the national board of the Vineyard Churches in Australia. I value Stuart a heap as he is a great mate, similarly gifted and passionate, but also sees the world differently to me at times.
We were discussing the stuff we are doing here in the West Oz Forge network seeking to inspire and equip people to get back into their communities and be missionaries there rather than simply running better church services and hoping punters come. As I have preached around the place and engaged with a fair few pastors and church leaders over the last couple of years I have become aware that this mindset is actually growing in the established church.
While there is still a high priority placed on a decent Sunday event there is a growing recognition that it is not the answer we once thought it was. There is an increasing awareness that we are called to be salt and light in the world – not in the church. I must say that for those of us who have chosen to run with no large Sunday event I would think it is somewhat easier to make the shifts and practice new modes of mission as we are not constantly drawn back to an existing imagination of the church.
However what happens if this idea of being salt and light in the world really catches on? What happens if the Church (big ‘C’) gets it?!… if they really get it and people become less focused on music practices and more on meeting their neighbours?
If missional engagement is the primary distinctive of the ‘Emerging Missional Church’, and everyone ‘gets it’ and does it then we will no longer be ‘distinctive’.
In fact I believe this ought to be our aim – to lose download blazing saddles divx our distinctiveness.
In the late 80’s (I think) the Vineyard was being birthed as John Wimber led a movement that called the church back to real connection with God in worship, the gifts of healing/knowledge etc and also to the kingdom of God as a primary undergirding framework.
It was their distinctive for a number of years. But now… what the Vineyard are on about has become mainstream stuff. Its no longer ‘out there’ and different or confronting. Conservative evangelicals are ok with ‘intimacy with God’, with healing, with kingdom of God stuff.
I would say that part of the reason the Vineyard movement (at least here in Oz) has lost some of its initial impetus is that it is no longer distinctive – and in many ways that is actually a good thing. People got it! People heard the message and embraced it.
I have a sense that we who are calling the church back to missional engagement that goes beyond event management and Sunday services, may be distinctive for a short while, but as people ‘get it’ (as seems to be happening) we will no longer be neccessary. Our job will be done.
And maybe we will be asking the same questions the Vineyard are asking at the moment. ‘What now?’
But is that a bad thing?…
I am very hopeful that one day we will lose our distinctives and in that time God will raise up a new voice/s to call us back to something else we have lost our way with. It seems to be the way of things…